A social care pioneer has been awarded Wales’s top honour.
Mario Kreft MBE, the proprietor of the award winning Pendine Park care organisation and chair of Care Forum Wales, won the enterprise category at the St David Awards.
The award was presented by First Minister Carwyn Jones at a glittering ceremony at the Senedd in Cardiff.
Appropriately, he was accompanied by wife Gill who has played a major role in the development of Pendine Park since they set it up together in 1985.
They established Pendine Park because they both had elderly grandparents who needed care and the places they went to see didn’t match their requirements – so they set up their own “family care home”.
Pendine Park now employs more than 600 people in seven care homes in Wrexham, a domiciliary care company and an in-house training company.
Later this year they will be opening a new centre of excellence for dementia care on the site of the former Bryn Seiont Community Hospital on the outskirts of Caernarfon in Gwynedd.
The £7 million development which will also include 16 companion living apartments will create 100 jobs and provide a major economic boost for North West Wales.
Among the first to congratulate Mario was Wrexham AM Lesley Griffiths.
She said: ” I am delighted Mario has been been honoured in this way.
“This recognition for all his pioneering work and dedication for 30 years is richly deserved.
“Mario leads by example and is an eloquent and effective champion for the social care sector in Wales.
“He is always the first to say he has fantastic support from his colleagues at Pendine Park and Care Forum Wales and from his wife, Gill. They are very special people.”
Mario said: “I was delighted to be nominated in the first place so to actually receive the award is a fantastic honour.
“This is the perfect 30th anniversary present for Pendine Park. None of this would have been possible without the huge contribution of my wife Gill whose expertise, energy and creativity have provided foundation for everything we have achieved.
“The award is also a recognition of the huge contribution of social care in communities right across Wales, including the teams at Care Forum Wales and Pendine Park.
“It’s a huge team approach and it’s a reward for all the work that we’ve been doing together over the years to raise standards in social care and to promote the profession of social care.
“Care homes are doing a wonderful job in the main for an incredibly low cost to the tax payer.
“The contribution of the social care sector in Wales is immense because it underpins so much of the broader economic sector.
“Social care is the glue that binds our communities together and pumps a total of £4 billion into local economies across Wales whilst providing vitally important community-based services.
“It’s typically an invisible contribution because people don’t recognise it but it employs more than five per cent of the Wales workforce.
“It not only provides vital services but also enables people to remain economically active.
“Importantly, most of the money that goes to social care goes in wages that are spent in the local community.”
Last year Mario was awarded a Fellowship by Glyndwr University in Wrexham.
Mario, who lives in Denbigh, is also the founder of the prestigious Wales Care Awards which he set up to provide recognition to the dedicated people who work in social care.
The 58-year-old was awarded an MBE in 2010 and has won a host of other prizes, including the Leading Wales Award for Leadership in the Private Sector 2014.
Mario is the son of a circus bear and lion tamer, Franz Kreft, who came to Britain as a refuge from Slovenia after the Second World War and later met and married his mother, Pamela.
He was christened in a circus tent in the South African city of Port Elizabeth and raised by his grandparents, Fred and Rene Warburton, who retired to Trefnant, near Denbigh, after selling their business, the former Pen-y-Don Hotel, on the promenade.
According to Mario, the values he learned from his grandparents still provide his “guiding light”.
Pendine Park’s centre of excellence for people with dementia in Wrexham is dedicated to his grandmother who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease in later life and Bodlondeb is named after his grandparents’ home in St Asaph Street, Rhyl.
“Although they are no longer with us, my grandparents who raised me would have been very thrilled about the St David Award,” added Mario.